In an abandoned house about ten miles south of our high school, deep in the woods, there’s a bedroom that is always wet.
On the surface, it sounds unremarkable. Woods. Abandoned house. Water. Leaks. Wet bedroom.
Go inside, though, and you’ll realize it’s a little more complicated than that. A little harder to explain.
The water in that room clings to the floor and walls and ceiling in heavy, gelatinous globules. Touch one and it’ll break, spilling foul-smelling water on you. I made that mistake the one time I visited on my own. It takes days to get that stink off.
Another thing about that room: try to take a picture inside. Go ahead. I encourage anyone to give it a shot. Just don’t be mad at me when your phone or camera stops working and becomes waterlogged without ever touching any liquid.
The weekend after I’d seen the house myself, I invited a couple friends to see if we could learn anything about the owners from the things that had been left behind. For an abandoned house, it was in pretty decent shape. Pictures still sat in frames on the mantles and end tables, windows remained unbroken, and no one had come through with a can of spray paint.
The place was dirty and needed work – but it was still largely liveable.
The day we decided to visit, we brought our sleeping bags. We planned on spending the night in the den, directly below the wet bedroom.
When we arrived, the first thing my friends wanted to do was go up to the room. I’d told Jim and Alyssa about what I’d seen. I’ll be honest – that one and only time I’d visited, I left right away. As soon as my camera malfunctioned and a small globe of water slid across the floor and burst on my shoe, I was out of there like a shot. No thank you.
Having my friends with me helped this second time. Strength in numbers or something. We entered the house, dropped our sleeping bags in the den, and got ready to see the wet bedroom. I remembered where it had been from my first visit. We’d have to ascend the creaky staircase, take a left, and make our way down the hall. The room was at the very end.
When we reached the top of the stairs, we saw the door was closed. I vaguely remembered leaving it open when I’d left a few days prior. Other people must have been there since.
Alyssa, the bravest of us, strode down the hallway and swung the door open. Late-afternoon sunlight poured into the hall from the two floor-to-ceiling bedroom windows.
We went inside. The water clung to the leftmost wall like a stove-sized jellyfish.
“Jesus,” Jim muttered.
“How is it doing that?” Alyssa asked.
“F**k if I know,” I told her. I went to the crib. A tiny red and white polka-dotted sock sat on a dusty blanket. A heavy, leather belt peeked out from underneath.
Jim paced the small room, being careful not to touch the water. Alyssa reached into the crib and removed the belt. Her eyes widened and it fell from her hand, its rusty steel buckle striking the floor with a loud thump.
“Is that blood?” she whispered.
The three of us crouched around the belt and examined it. The ragged leather tip was encrusted with brownish-red flakes.
“Maybe,” I said. Jim just nodded.
On our left, the water globule shimmered and divided like a soap bubble.
“Let’s go downstairs” Alyssa suggested. Apparently she was done being the brave one in the group. Neither Jim nor I felt like filling that role, so we all headed back down to the den.
We unrolled our sleeping bags and and cracked open the beers Jim had stolen from his father. As we drank, we wandered around the house and took a look at what the previous owners had left.
After about an hour, I was disappointed. There wasn’t much to learn. A few old bills remained in drawers and the shelves had some books I’d heard of before, but nothing gave any hint of what might be happening in the room above us.
Discouraged, Jim and I went back to the den and had a few more beers. Alyssa persisted, though. She wanted to check out the basement.
“Have fun with that,” I told her. There was no way I was going down there, especially since it was already getting dark outside. The house was a lot scarier in the twilight.
“Pussies!” Alyssa called out as she trotted down the cellar stairs.
“We are what we eat,” Jim said under his breath. It was an automatic reply, like an answering machine. Neither he nor I found it funny anymore.
Jim and I sat and listened as Alyssa bull-in-a-china-shopped her way around the basement. We heard her swear as she knocked things over, sigh as she grew frustrated, and, an hour and a half later, cheer when she found something useful.
“What’d you find?” Jim yelled.
“Check this out!” Alyssa hollered back, galumphing up the steps and bounding into the den.
She held a photo album.
The three of us huddled around and looked at the pictures. I held the flashlight for us and I aimed it at the strange faces displayed before us. Some of them matched the ones in the picture frames displayed around the house.
“I think those must be the owners,” Jim said, and pointed at a young couple. The woman was smiling and displaying her pregnant belly while the man rested his head on her shoulder.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
A couple pages later, we saw pictures in the delivery room. The woman, sweating and exhausted-looking but still smiling, was propped up in her hospital bed. It looked like she was talking to a woman standing nearby who could have been the grandmother-to-be.
“Aww, she’s about to have her baby,” Jim cooed. Alyssa looked at him with disgust.
“F**k you, I like babies,” he replied. Alyssa rolled her eyes.
I turned the page.
“There’s the baby!” Jim announced.
And he was right. A tiny newborn was swaddled against the woman’s chest.
The baby was beautiful. It had a full head of dark hair and wide, brown eyes. It gazed at its mother with what appeared to be adoration.
The new mother, though, looked different. She wasn’t smiling. I was surprised – all through the album up to that point she’d had some form of grin on her face. Now, in what should have been her happiest moment, she looked upset. Frightened, even.
“I wonder what’s wrong,” I thought aloud.
We kept flipping pages. The happy couple that only moments earlier had glowed back at us now darkened every photograph they occupied. Alyssa noticed that the mother was the only one who ever held the baby in the photographs. It looked as if the father wanted nothing to do with it.
“Him,” Jim said, and pointed at a photograph of the baby being bathed by his grandmother. “The baby’s a he.”
“Ok, fine,” Alyssa said. “It looks like Dad doesn’t want anything to do with him.”
I flipped back to one of the shots taken in the delivery room, presumably by the grandmother or a nurse. The new parents sat coldly on the hospital bed with the baby in his mother’s arms. The man was a full foot away from his wife and child.
“Look at that,” I instructed. “The man and woman have blond hair and blue eyes. And they’re both really pale. Now look at the baby.”
I shone the flashlight closer on the newborn’s features. Black hair. Brown eyes. His skin was shades darker.
“Oh s**t,” Alyssa whispered.
I closed the album.
“I guess that must’ve been pretty f****n’ awkward,” Jim remarked.
Alyssa and I nodded. We chugged the remaining beers and bullshitted for a little while.
I started to get bored and a little antsy. The house around us was pitch black, save for the dim beam of the flashlight. I looked at my watch. 9:14.
“I know it’s a little early guys,” I said, “but do you want to turn in now? I’d kinda like to get out of here as early as possible tomorrow.”
My friends agreed. I tucked the photo album into my backpack and curled up inside my sleeping bag. Before I knew it, I was asleep.
“Jessica,” came a whispered voice in my ear. “Jess.”
I opened my eyes to the blackness of the den. It was Alyssa’s voice.
“Is she awake?” asked Jim from Alyssa’s other side.
“What the f**k?” I murmured.
“Do you hear that?” replied Alyssa.
“What? Hear what?”
I listened. There was a sound coming from the bedroom above us. Something I couldn’t quite recognize at first. I drew in a sharp breath and held it, listening intently. Then I knew. It was the sound of soft weeping.
“Where’s the f*****g flashlight?” I barked, louder than I’d intended. I could feel a knot of fear tightening in my chest.
The light clicked on almost immediately. Jim had been holding it.
“How long has that been going on?” I asked.
“Five minutes, maybe,” said Jim. “It’s been getting louder.
“Let’s leave,” Alyssa suggested. “How about we just get out right now?”
“No. No, wait,” I told her. I got out of my sleeping back and reached for the flashlight. Jim handed it to me. “We should go upstairs and see.”
“Get the f**k out of here,” Alyssa sneered.
“No, I mean it. We’re here,” I insisted.
I had no idea what had come over me. Yes, I was still scared. Terrified, even. But my curiosity had dwarfed my terror. Whatever it was, I wanted to get a glimpse. Even if it meant just bolting up the stairs, taking a quick peek, and running away and out the door into the woods.
Jim stood up. “I’ll go with you.”
“Good,” I said, and turned to Alyssa. “You can stay here if you want.”
“The f**k I will,” she hissed. “I don’t want to be alo-”
The house shook from a crash directly above our heads. We all jumped. It sounded like something heavy had fallen over. The baby’s cries became wails and screams. There was a new sound, too. A sharp, wet slapping.
“Come on,” I instructed. “Two seconds. In and out. And we can tell everyone at school.”
“Jesus f*****g Christ,” Alyssa complained.
“Let’s go,” I told them.
I held the flashlight in front of me and illuminated the narrow staircase. I was walking slower than I’d wanted. Jim and Alyssa were taking their sweet time and I wanted them near me when we did this so I was forced to move at their pace.
We reached the second floor. I shone the light down the hall. The bedroom door was closed. I felt my heart shudder. I knew, for an absolute fact, I’d left it open after we’d been up there only a few hours ago.
I began to shake as we closed the distance to the bedroom. The light beam danced in front of us like a strobe light until I grasped my right hand with my left to steady it.
“Open it,” I whispered to Jim, who was hanging onto my right shoulder.
The shrieking on the other side of the door intensified, along with the heavy slaps.
“Can’t we just leave?” Alyssa pleaded. I ignored her. Jim’s hand reached out and turned the doorknob. He gave it a gentle push. Everything went silent.
The door creaked open. I shone the light around the room. The crib had fallen on its side with its legs facing us. “That explains the crash,” I thought to myself.
Resting on the crib was the belt. It had been looped around one of the legs.
“Where’s the water?” Alyssa breathed.
We hadn’t moved out of the doorway. I aimed the flashlight all around the room. Nothing. I did another pass. Something caught my eye. Two thin, hairlike streams of fluid were running up from the other side of the crib. I followed them with the light. There, resting inches below the ceiling, was the water. It hung in a wide, shallow puddle.
“I need to look,” Jim informed us, apparently less terrified than he’d been seconds ago. I nodded in agreement.
I took slow, careful steps forward into the bedroom. Jim followed but Alyssa remained on the other side of the doorway, refusing to go any further.
“This is bullshit, Jess,” she said to me through gritted teeth. “Total bullshit.”
I didn’t respond. Jim and I approached the crib. I peered over the other side. The blanket and sock had toppled out. I noticed, for the first time, that the same brownish-red stain on the belt was present on the blanket.
I looked beyond the blanket to where the strands of liquid were rising. They looked like they were originating from the air about eight inches above the floor.
Again, I traced their direction up to the water hanging above the ceiling. I was utterly, utterly perplexed.
“What could that possibly be?” I asked Jim, and moved the flashlight back down.
I looked over my shoulder at Jim, hoping for a response, and saw him watching the flashlight beam. His eyes widened. I jerked my head forward and gasped.
A baby was lying on the dusty floor. Aside from one red and white polka-dotted sock, he was nude. His face was a mask of crimson and streaks of blood oozed from raised welts on his chest and legs and groin.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. “Oh my fuc-”
The door slammed. We all yelped. I heard Alyssa yelling and banging on the door, demanding that we open it and come back.
Jim and I turned around and tried pulling the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. The screaming started again, piercing through Alyssa’s commotion and turning my blood cold. I whirled back toward the crib and aimed the flashlight. The baby was floating in midair, its face and chest pointed at the ceiling.
“No no no no no,” Jim moaned as we watched the belt unravel itself from the leg of the crib. A figure materialized in the center of the room. It was human shaped. A man. A man with long, unkempt blond hair. He had a small hole in his cheek and a massive crater in the back of his head. Without acknowledging our presence, he pulled the belt off the crib and begin whipping it back and forth against the baby’s dark, bloody skin. The child screamed in agony.
Jim leapt forward and tried to intervene. He passed through both the man and the baby and fell onto the crib. He struggled to his feet and joined me back at the door. Alyssa had stopped banging. I found out later she’d run home through the blackness of the woods, breaking her arm in a fall along the way.
Helpless to do anything but watch, Jim and I held one another as the man delivered blow after blow upon the infant. The screaming stopped after a minute or so, but the beating continued for another five. When it was over, the man simply blinked out of existence. The belt clattered to the floor.
The battered, mutilated infant remained floating in the center of the room. Then he, too, disappeared, leaving only the two thin lines of clear fluid still flowing up into the globule by the ceiling.
I was reeling from the violence we’d just been forced to witness. I felt dizzy and unable to focus. I trained my eyes on the wet lines until they stopped flowing up to the ceiling. I stared at that massive, wet orb for a few seconds before I realized what it was.
“Tears,” I whispered, and felt my own leak down my cheeks. “Countless nights worth of tears.”
Jim pulled the door again. It opened easily. Stunned, we left the room and headed down the stairs. Leaving our belongings and armed only with the dying flashlight, we walked out into the quiet night.